Albania make history with win over Romania in Lyon
A maiden major tournament victory gives Albanians a third place finish in Group A
Albania’ celebrate their opening goal in their famous 1-0 win over Romania in Lyon. Photograph: AP
Giovanni De Biasi was awarded Albanian citizenship after the Italian coach secured the country’s first appearance at an international tournament. His status as national hero has now been consolidated after leading Albania to their first victory at a European Championship, to a third placed finish in Group A and a possible last 16 tie with England.
Backed by a fanatical, passionate support, Albania combined flashes of creativity with impregnable defending to eliminate Romania from the competition and give themselves hope of surviving beyond the group stage. Armando Sadiku secured his place in Albanian football folklore with their first goal at the Euros to spark memorable celebrations and extend Romania’s sorry return to one win in 16 European Championship games.
The Albanian support inside Stade de Lyon was impressive in number and volume as they congregated in hope of witnessing their country’s first goal and points of the European Championship. They were also without a win in eight competitive meetings with Romania but that did not deter fans from as far as the United States travelling to the Group A finale.
Albania’s passage to France had turned Giovanni De Biasi’s team into a symbol of national unity but was also assisted by the fall-out from the ‘Battle of Belgrade’ when Serbian supporters invaded the pitch after a drone carrying a ‘Greater Albania’ flag flew over the stadium.
Uefa punished both teams for the abandoned qualifier before Albania won three points on appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Having gone to such lengths to reach their first international tournament, there was deflation at how the Euros had unfolded against Switzerland and France but also a clear determination to make their mark at the third attempt.
Occasionally it was made on Romanian ankles as the game opened at a ferocious pace. Czech referee Pavel Kralovec allowed several late challenges to go unpunished, though he did book Migjen Basha for a flying leap into the shoulder of Ovidiu Hoban with only eight minutes gone.
As in their opening two defeats, Albania started carelessly with their naivety in possession helping Romania to dominate the early exchanges. Etrit Berisha, the Albania goalkeeper, saved from Hoban and when Elseid Hysaj’s headed clearance fell for Bogdan Stancu to threaten with a fine volley from 18 yards. Romania’s physical centre-forward Denis Alibec almost marked his first start with an excellent opener when turning defender Arlind Ajeti and chipping wide from distance.
Turning control into goals was a problem for Anghel Iordanescu’s side throughout qualifying, however, when they conconceded twice in 10 matches but scored only 11 in total, and Romania would rue their failure to capitalise on a purposeful opening.
Their threat faded once Albania found some composure and invention on the ball. A superb move should have resulted in the ball finding the Romanian net when Sadiku, Ermir Lenjani and Amir Abrashi combined down the left before the striker released Andi Lila down the opposite flank with a perfect pass. Lila crossed first time for Lenjani who blazed over from six yards but was spared lasting ignominy by an offside flag.
But the flowing move injected belief into the Albanian ranks. Basha miscued another free shot on goal from Ledian Memushaj’s corner before their long-awaited breakthrough arrived moments before half-time.
Collecting a throw-in on the right, Memushaj swept a deep cross to the far post where Sadiku towered above a defender and goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu to head over the line. Cue scenes of unbridled joy as the striker sank to his knees before a delirious Albanian bench.
Alibec’s evening came to a premature and worrying end when his ankle twisted badly as he challenged for the ball with Basha. The Romania forward was stretchered off in clear distress though his replacement, Gabriel Torje, helped rekindle the team’s menace with his energy, pace and movement.
Albania continued to cause problems for the Romania defence and Tatarusanu was forced to gather at the second attempt after fumbling Memushaj’s shot while Mergim Mavraj headed over from the midfielder’s corner. They were also fortunate to keep 11 men on the pitch when Basha avoided a second yellow card for tripping Lucian Sanmartean as the Romania substitute weaved his way towards goal.
Inevitably, given their desperate need for victory and Albania’s first taste of three competitive fixtures in eight days, Romania pressed relentlessly in the closing stages and defensive heroics were required from De Biasi’s team to stand firm. Ajeti produced a vital challenge inside his penalty area on Stancu after a wayward pass from Ansi Agolli almost gifted the midfielder his third goal of the tournament. Abrashi threw himself in the way of a Hoban shot and another Romanian attacking substitute, Florin Andone, struck Albania’s crossbar when put clear by an incisive one-touch move. The tireless Ajeti deflected Andone’s drive onto the woodwork with his latest vital intervention.